Many Hurdles on the Way to Accountability for Rohingya and Uyghur Atrocities, Experts Tell US Hearing

China, and to a lesser degree Myanmar, have ways to evade international reckoning.

Many Hurdles on the Way to Accountability for Rohingya and Uyghur Atrocities, Experts Tell US Hearing

Holding perpetrators of genocide in China, Myanmar, and elsewhere accountable for atrocities is a worldwide goal but there are many obstacles to seeking justice through courts, panelists told a Washington hearing this week.

The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, together with the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), hosted a hearing Wednesday on how to  “hold perpetrators of mass atrocities accountable and ensure justice for victims.”

Nury Turkel, USCIRF’s vice chair, said the Uyghurs of China and the Rohingya in Myanmar – Muslim groups whose treatment has been described as genocide, present particular challenges following Myanmar’s Feb. 1 military coup and with China’s international status and clout.

“In the wake of Burma's military coup, which brought many of the perpetrators of the violence against the Rohingya community into power, accountability is urgently needed. In other contexts, the pathways to justice for genocide victims are less clear. This is the case for Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in China who are victims of genocide and crimes against humanity,” he told the panel.

In the case of Myanmar and the 2017 violent mass expulsion of 740,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh, the international legal system is a key tool that the United States can utilize to hold the government accountable, Turkel said.

But that approach will be harder to apply to Beijing’s mass incarceration of Uyghurs in camps and other widespread abuses in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, because China is a veto-wielding member of the United Nations Security Council, he said.

“The International Criminal Court [ICC] will not initiate an investigation into the crimes committed against the Uyghurs because China is not a party to the court, and China would veto any attempt by the Security Council to refer the situation to the ICC or create an ad hoc tribunal. The ICJ [International Court of Justice] is also not an option, as China has submitted a reservation to the Genocide Convention’s jurisdiction,” said Turkel.

U.S. State Department in January determined that the Chinese government’s actions against Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) constituted genocide and crimes against humanity.

Turkel said that it was important to document genocide even if legal options were not accessible, and pointed to last month’s Uyghur Tribunal in London

“While the tribunal's efforts are not state sanctioned, it is work that is providing a voice for survivors and creating a collection of evidence that might someday contribute to a criminal process,” he said.

“Other efforts to document the ongoing genocide, such as the work of journalists who are reporting on the horrors in China, are also important for strengthening the legal argument for and international accountability mechanism to hold those Chinese officials to account,” Turkel said.

Arsalan Suleman, the State Department’s former acting special envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said Myanmar also has ways to avoid accountability in The Hague, the Dutch city where the ICC and ICJ are located.

 “Myanmar is not a state party to the statute of the International Criminal Court. So absent a referral to the ICC by the United Nations Security Council, there's no basis for ICC jurisdiction over crimes committed entirely within the territory of Myanmar,” Suleman said.

The international bodies that are tasked with preventing genocide are often ineffective, according to Stephen Rapp, the State Department’s former ambassador to the Office of Global Criminal Justice.

“We must recognize that an international court is sometimes necessary and given that the U.N. Security Council is often blocked by Russian or Chinese vetoes and the worst crimes are being committed outside the territories of ICC member states, a new group must be developed,” said Rapp.

“The answer is a coalition of nations like our own to consider pooling their jurisdiction and personnel as well as their power of influence into an agreement-based court as permitted. International law in situations where there is no other path, independent justice, in order to investigate prosecute and try the perpetrators of the worst crimes known to humankind,” he said.

Carmen Cheung, the executive director of the California-based Center for Justice and Accountability, credited civil society groups for documenting atrocities in places where “immediate access may be difficult for professional investigators and international organizations like ours.”

“This necessary work is often conducted at serious personal risk during Internet shutdowns and communication blackouts. We've seen this over the past several months with activists in Burma documenting the extrajudicial killings of protesters,” Cheung said.

Much of what we know about the Rohingya genocide is due to civil society organizations, Cheung said.

“It has been Burmese civil society that has led the collection of evidence that ultimately fed into the UN's international fact finding mission. And that is feeding into the IIMM [Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar] today,” she said. The IIMM was established by the UN Human Rights Council in 2018 to keep track of atrocities against Rohingya.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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Junta Troops Arrest Dozens of PDF Militiamen in Myanmar’s Sagaing Region

The Mingin PDF says its fighters were ambushed after surrounding a pro-military village.

Junta Troops Arrest Dozens of PDF Militiamen in Myanmar’s Sagaing Region

Troops loyal to Myanmar’s junta arrested nearly 60 members of the People’s Defense Force (PDF) militia in Sagaing region’s embattled Mingin township on Wednesday with the help of a paramilitary group, prompting thousands of villagers to flee their homes for safety, according to sources.

Members of the Mingin PDF told RFA’s Myanmar Service that it was carrying out a mission to take over the pro-junta Taungbyu village at around 3:00 a.m. on Wednesday morning when around 70 of its fighters were ambushed and arrested by government troops and members of the Phyu Saw Htee—the militia wing of the military proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

“We had the village surrounded and they said women, children and unarmed people would come out to negotiate. They told us to leave behind our weapons and 57 of our comrades entered the village. They all got arrested. Only 12 of us escaped because we didn’t believe them and wouldn’t go along,” a Mingin PDF fighter said Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“I heard that four have already been killed. We are worried about the situation. We are worried that unarmed prisoners will be tortured and killed in violation of the Geneva Convention.”

The fighter said that the PDF tried to take over Taungbyu and nearby Panset village after junta soldiers and the Phyu Saw Htee arrested and killed several villagers in a recent raid on Mingin township.

He said the identities of the four PDF fighters killed in Taungbyu village were not immediately clear.

Wednesday’s arrest was the largest to date of PDF fighters anywhere in the country since the militia was formed in response to the military’s Feb. 1 coup d’état.

Another member of the Mingin PDF told RFA his group is still trying to determine how the arrest took place.

“The phone line was disconnected as they were about to go in …  How did it happen? Was it a betrayal? If they were armed, they would have been able to fight back,” he said.

“They were a large force and knew the risk of getting killed while engaged in a fight. Being arrested en masse like this doesn’t make sense. It is very difficult to understand. We are trying to find answers.”

Photos purporting to show the arrest went viral on social media Thursday morning. It was not immediately clear who took the photos or posted them online.

Maung Myint, a former USDP lawmaker for Mingin township, wrote in a post to his Facebook page that the residents of Taungbyu “were united and showed good military tactics,” allowing them to “crush” the PDF.

“Since their guns were Tumees, we surrounded them while they were preparing them [to be fired] and we got more than 50 alive,” he wrote, referring to the flintlock style of traditional rifle their forefathers used to fight off British colonizers in the 1880s. “[The PDF prisoners] have been transferred to the army.”

Attempts by RFA to reach junta Deputy Information Minister Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun for comment went unanswered Thursday.

Panset village clash

Fighting also broke out between the PDF members and the military Wednesday morning in Panset village, located around three miles from Taungbyu, according to the Mingin PDF, which claimed that it killed one government troop and injured three.

The clash and number of casualties was confirmed by Maung Myint, the former USDP lawmaker, who said the wounded troops were airlifted out of the area via the military’s camp in Mingin township.

Residents of the area said that junta troops received support from both the navy and the air force during the fighting in Panset and Taungbyu villages.

Chaw Su San, vice-chairwoman of the Monywa University Students’ Union, urged the PDF not to negotiate with the military to release its detained fighters.

“No matter how much they say they want to negotiate, our people should not believe them at all—nothing they say is trustworthy,” she said.

“Since we have made the decision to fight [the regime] by whatever means possible and have clearly stated our goals, the PDF and the people should not accept any kind of offer.”

Following Wednesday’s clashes, the military set up camp in Taungbyu and Panset villages, prompting more than 8,000 people from 20 nearby villages to flee to safety.

According to the United Nations and aid groups, conflict in Myanmar’s remote border regions has displaced an estimated 230,000 residents since the junta coup. They join more than 500,000 refugees from decades of conflict between the military and ethnic armies who were already counted as internally displaced persons (IDPs) at the end of 2020, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, a Norwegian NGO.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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